Updated: Thursday, 28 August 2014 14:54 | By Agence France-Presse

Chile navy officer makes history by announcing he is gay

A navy officer became the first member of the Chilean military to reveal he is gay -- a groundbreaking admission in this conservative Catholic country.


Chile navy officer makes history by announcing he is gay

Chilean Navy officer Mauricio Ruiz, pictured during a press conference in Santiago, on August 27, 2014 - by Claudio Reyes

"There is nothing better than being yourself," a shy-looking Mauricio Ruiz, 24, told a press conference on Wednesday.

He said he had already told his superiors because he was tired of leading a double life, then decided to go completely public by speaking to the media.

Chile is a highly conservative country, where even divorce was not allowed until 2004, and discrimination against suspected gays in the military and society in general have been common. A law governing same sex unions is being debated.

"For me it is important to take this step, because to be repressed is to not accept what you are, and that made me unhappy," Ruiz said.

Gays can have a tough time in Chile.

The violent death of a young gay man named Daniel Zamudio at the hands of alleged neo-Nazis prompted a 2012 law that punished people who discriminated against others because of their race, sexual orientation or social status.

Gay rights groups welcomed Ruiz's announcement.

"He took a pioneering decision, worthy of brave people who take the first step," said Oscar Rementeria, spokesman for the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement.  

Ruiz said his partner initially did not want him to come out because he feared for Ruiz's safety. The partner stood beside him at the press conference.

In the end, the reaction was not as adverse as he expected, Ruiz said.

"I don't know what I was afraid of," he said.

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